Frequently known as simply a peregrine, this magnificent bird, whilst not the fastest in level flight, can achieve incredible speeds in excess of 300 kilometres an hour when diving on to its prey, making it the fastest of any bird or animal in the world.
The adult peregrine is a solidly built bird and one of the largest falcons. The male and female are similar in plumage colouring and patternation although the female is larger and can weigh more than twice that of the male. The bird has a pale spotted breast with a white underside marked with close horizontal grey bars which cover its belly and flanks. The long pointed wings and upper body parts are blue grey with a broad pale rump. The pale underside of the wings have dark grey bars similar to the belly. The crown of the head and nape are black and the eyes are pronounced being surrounded by a narrow bright yellow ring. There are white cheek patches and darker almost black areas, often described as a moustache, below each cheek spreading to the side of the neck. The short bill is hooked and powerful with a yellow base and a very obvious nasal protrusion. Its legs and feet are also yellow. Juveniles have more of an overall brown colouration than the adults, tinged with buff edges and a blue grey eye circle and base to the bill.
Peregrine Falcon flying
Peregrines have been used in falconry for over 3,000 years. Today they are often also used within the aviation industry to scare birds away from airfields, thus lessening the possibility of dangerous and expensive bird strikes.
At the nest peregrines issue a loud 'kack – kack – kack' call or occasionally an elongated 'kee – eeeee', otherwise they are generally silent creatures.
Peregrine Falcon Call
Sławomir Karpicki-Ignatowski, XC624604. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/624604.
Close up of a Peregrine Falcon
Peregrines mainly feed on medium sized birds which they attack in flight although they will also take rodents and other small mammals and reptiles. They rarely eat carrion.
Peregrines pair for life. The male peregrine is approximately 2/3 the size of a female and is called a ‘tiercel’. The female is simply known as a ‘falcon’. There are an estimated 15,000 breeding pairs within the United Kingdom.
Peregrines are resident throughout most of the UK apart from the Scottish highlands, preferring coastlines, mountain and moorland areas as well as cities and river valleys. Several organisations release live webcam footage annually of breeding and nesting birds on rooftops and church towers. They are more prevalent in the upland areas of northwest England, Wales and southern Scotland.
Peregrine Falcons can reach speeds of up to 200 mph whilst diving
Peregrines are territorial birds and tend to hunt at dawn and dusk which are good times to spot them. In flight the tail is quite short with a very pronounced square shape. Even from a distance their mainly grey blue colouring and black ‘sideburns’, in addition to their size, easily distinguishes them from other raptors.
The breeding season is between March and June and the chosen nesting site is normally a simple ledge, be it on a cliff or high building or in a scrape on a mountain or upland area. No proper nest is actually constructed. One brood of 3 or 4 reddish brown mottled eggs are incubated for just over a month by the female, with the male taking over to allow the female occasional respite. Once the chicks hatch the male engages in most of the hunting to feed the female and her brood.
Peregrine Falcon feeding chicks at nest
Peregrine Falcon eggs
The average life expectancy for a peregrine is between twelve to fifteen years.
Eleonora’s falcons are polymorphic. That is to say they have two different plumage patterns and colours which are apparent within the single species. They are also monotypic indicating that there are no sub-species.
The merlin is a predominantly ground nesting falcon and the UK’s smallest bird of prey. Preferring upland and moorland areas for breeding the bird may venture in to lowland regions during the winter when it is joined by migrating merlins from Iceland.